A radical overhaul of transport and road design is needed if we are to avoid a congested, overcrowded, polluted and hazardous transport environment in the future, according to a report released last week by the County Surveyors’ Society, now known as the CSS.
The report, entitled Travel is Good in a bid to emphasise the positive aspects of transport, comes at a time when London Mayor Ken Livingstone has announced a hike in the congestion charge for London’s largest and most polluting vehicles.
One of the report’s most radical proposals recommends the removal of traffic-calming measures, signage, barriers and speed restrictions in urban areas in order to combat congestion and encourage road safety. This move, it says, has been shown to actually encourage more careful driving, because the onus of safety is on the driver and not the physical environment.
‘On our roads we have created certainty about boundaries, separated different users and changed the design of road layouts – all in the drive to improve safety. Paradoxically, creating barriers and divisions may worsen safety, because drivers and riders feel more confident and speed up, despite limitations on the speed at which the human mind can take in the amount of information now displayed on our roads,’ says the report.
While this concept is not entirely new – the idea of ‘shared space’ or ‘naked streets’ has already been successfully trialled in Drachten in the Netherlands, and Kensington High Street in London – the fact that the CSS has now made such recommendations heralds a new awareness of the ‘power of place’, according to one of the contributors to the report, Rob Cowan.
The time for this sort of idea has finally come, he claims. ‘We must remember, though, that we have had the idea of shared space around for some time. We first had it with Home Zone areas a few years back, and there is a danger that it could get looked at as a standard solution but, really, the secret is to design each place individually, according to variables such as resources and people,’ says Cowan.
Transport and traffic corridors, according to Cowan, are increasingly being viewed as public spaces, and those delivering transport need to better understand urban design to cope with this shift.
‘Transport, signage, wayfinding, graphic and street furniture designers need to work in collaboration with architects, town planners, councils and Government rather than seeing themselves as separate specialists wheeled in at a particular point in a job,’ he adds.
Other recommendations within the report include the widespread adoption of hydrogen as a carbon-free alternative fuel, the design of a public transport system comfortable enough to entice drivers out of their cars, and the development of technology to improve communication between various modes of transport and help counter the threat of terrorism.
Background to the report
• CSS has stewardship of more than three-quarters of the land area – and three-quarters of the road network – in England and Wales, and all public roads in Northern Ireland
• The Government’s £4.7bn investment on road infrastructure in 2005/06 was dwarfed by UK consumers’ expenditure on cars and motorcycles, which reached £19bn over the same period
• Contributors to the report include Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport and Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairman of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee
• For a full copy of the report, visit www.cssnet.org.uk